The highest British decoration for “conspicuous bravery or devotion to the country in the presence of the enemy”, which was instituted by Queen Victoria towards the end of the Crimean War in 1856, and is known as the Victoria Cross, has been awarded to many Irishmen, including three who were born in this county. Cast in bronze, from Russian guns taken at Sevastopol, the decoration is in the form of a Maltese cross, bearing in the centre the royal crown surmounted by a lion, and the words “For Valour”. The recipient’s name is engraved on the back of an attached bar, decorated with a laurel.
|Lance Corporal Abraham Boulger, the first Kildare man to receive the decoration, was born at Kilcullen about 1827, During his service with the 84th Regiment in India he was said to have been “critically engaged daily with the enemy, either in pitched battle with his regiment or as scout and skirmisher. Twelve actions were fought, and in all of these he took part. At Lucknow he stormed a bridge, and was the first man to dash into a masked battery”. For these actions Boulger won his reward, and following further distinguished service as a Sergeant-Major, including participation in the storming of Tel-el-Kebir, he was given the honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. After he retired in 1887 he returned home, where he died thirteen years later.||
near Kill, was the birthplace of Brigadier-General Charles Fitzclarence in 1865.
It was the home of his mother, Lady Maria Henriette Scott, eldest daughter of
the 3rd Earl of Clonmell, who had purchased the mansion in the year that he
married the Hon. Anne de Burgh, daughter of General Sir Ulysses de Burgh, of
Bert, Athy; another daughter of Clonmell’s was married to John la Touche of
Harristown. Lady Maria Henriette married Capt. George Fitzclarence R.N., Knight
of the Medjidie in 1864, whose grandfather was the eldest illegitimate son of
King William IV.
A little, known fact, even to many "experts" is that the metal used to forge every Victoria Cross is tended by 15 Regiment Royal Logistic Corps in Donnington. The VC metal rarely sees the light of day as it is secured in special vaults and is removed only under exceptional circumstances; however, on 28 May, this item of national history was transported to the Imperial War Museum in London for the royal opening of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Exhibition.
Weighing 358 ounces and looking somewhat like a lump of cheese, the VC metal is unique among BOD Donnington's 700,000 item headings of Army stores. It is all that remains of the bronze cascabels from two Russian cannon captured at Sebastopol, the last great battle of the Crimean War in 1854-55. The cascabel, a large knob at the rear of the cannon, held ropes which were used when the artillery piece was being man-handled. The two cannon, minus cascabels, stand proudly outside the Officers Mess in Woolwich.
most recent issue of metal, exactly fifty ounces and sufficient to make
twelve medals, occurred on 23 October 1959, to Messrs Hancocks & Co
(Jewellers) Ltd, the royal jewellers who have been responsible for
individually making each medal since the inception of the VC in 1857.
Given that fifty ounces are required to make twelve Victoria Cross medals,
the remaining 358 ounces contain enough for a further eighty five.
four sons of the Fitzclarence’s joined the Services; the youngest died in the
Crimea, another was killed in action with the Egyptian Army, and his twin
brother rose to the rank of Brigadier-General. The hero of the family, Charles Fitzclarence,
went from the militia into the Royal Fusiliers, and he accompanied Kitchener on
the Khartoum campaign. He was said to have been “grievously disappointed”
when his unit was not allowed to go up the Nile. When the regiment of the Irish
Guards was formed in 1900 he transferred to it, bringing with him the sobriquet The
Demon, and a V.C., from his service in South Africa in the previous year. He
had been given no less than three recommendations for the decoration, based on
such gallantry as that displayed at Mafeking. There, surrounded by superior
numbers of enemy “his personal coolness and courage inspired the greatest
confidence in his men”; a heavy defeat was inflicted on the Boers, who lost
fifty, to only two of Fitzclarence’s men. On another occasion, in a
hand-to-hand encounter, he killed four of the enemy with his sword. Later he
served as battalion, and then regimental commander, of the Guards, and for a
time he was stationed at the Curragh. As a Brigadier-General he led the 1st
Guards Brigade with the Expeditionary Force in France and there, on November
11th, 1914, moving along a country road, in darkness, at the head of his men, he
Also awarded the VC during the Great War was Lieut.
Vincent Holland, the eldest son of a veterinary surgeon who lived at the Model
Farm, Athy. This is how the London Gazette
of 26 October 1916 reported his distinction: “John Vincent Holland,
Lieutenant 3rd Battn Leinster Regiment, attached 7th Battn. Date of Act of
Bravery: 3 Sept. 1916. For most conspicuous bravery during the heavy engagement
when, not content with bombing hostile dugouts within the objective, he
fearlessly led his bombers through our own artillery barrage and cleared a great
part of the village in front. He started out with twenty-six bombers and
finished up with only five, after
capturing some fifty prisoners. By this very gallant action he undoubtedly broke
the spirit of the enemy and thus saved us many casualties when the battalion
made a further advance. He was far from well at the time, and later had to go to
hospital”. A keen sportsman, he shot big game, played tennis and cricket, and
hunted with the Kildare, Queen’s County and Carlow foxhounds. He died at
Hobart, in Tasmania in 1975.
By Con Costello